Counting the Cost

The cost of Saudi Arabia’s purge

As Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s anti-corruption purge widens, we ask how much money is at stake.

Dozens of Saudi Arabian royals, ministers and businessmen have been detained in an anti-corruption probe, which is seen as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidating his power while alarming much of the traditional business establishment.

Fitch credit rating agency said the crackdown on the Kingdom’s elite could bring a backlash and create political uncertainty in an already volatile region.

The prince’s purge has been a wake-up call for many people doing business in the Arab world’s biggest economy and oil producer. The Saudi Central Bank claims it’s business as usual for lenders and the companies owned by those arrested, but reports say wealthy Saudis are moving assets out of the region.


by ”Michael

a nervousness about wanting to invest in Saudi Arabia or not.”]

As assets built up through corruption will become state property, how much money is at stake?

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Saudi government is targeting as much as $800bn and has already frozen 1,700 bank accounts.

One of the tech world’s most important investors is among those detained. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has stakes in Twitter, Apple, Citigroup and other western institutions. 

According to Michael Stephens from the UK security think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute, Prince Mohammed “is trying to do two things. He’s trying to take up the big boys, the big companies and say, ‘Hey, corruption at the institutional level is not acceptable,’ but he’s also taking on individuals … So if the evidence [of corruption] is there for all of these companies and all of these individuals, then I guess we’ll accept what those corruption charges are in the international community. If the evidence is not there, then there’s going to be a big problem.

“The detention of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has caused people to raise some eyebrows. People are wondering what’s going on there, unsure about their investments with Kingdom Holdings, which is a massive multinational conglomerate operating under Alwaleed bin Talal… people now have a nervousness about wanting to invest in Saudi Arabia or not,” Stephens says.

Also on this episode of Counting the Cost:

China’s Trump card: When the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies met this week, the big question on everyone’s mind was: Is US President Donald Trump changing his tune when it comes to China?

His two-day trip there was full of lavish pomp and ceremony, with China’s President Xi Jinping looking eager to present a welcoming face. Non-binding deals were signed and the smiling faces and tone were certainly friendlier than during Trump’s election campaign.

Geoff Lewis from Manulife Asset Management in Hong Kong offers his take. 

Venezuela economy: President Nicolas Maduro has invited bondholders to Caracas to talk about debt restructuring. The country has a roughly $120bn foreign debt mountain, but servicing that debt has put Venezuela on the brink of starvation and bankruptcy. Is the country inching closer to an official default?

Iraq’s Kurdish secession: The economy in the Kurdish region of Iraq has taken a hit after the referendum on secession. The central government in Baghdad has closed international airspace, tourists are staying away, and there’s been fighting between Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga. And while a ceasefire is now in place, uncertainty continues to affect the region and its economy, as Stefanie Dekker reports from Dohuk in northern Iraq.

Paradise Papers: Calls for fairer global tax laws are growing louder, after it emerged that the US commerce secretary, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, pop star Bono and a top aide to the Canadian prime minister are among thousands named in a new leak of offshore financial accounts. Mereana Hond reports on the so-called Paradise Papers.

Apple’s secret tax haven: This week, it was revealed that Apple uses a secret tax haven, the English Channel island of Jersey. Apple currently has $252bn of untaxed cash outside the US. The paradise papers allege that back in 2013, Irish officials under huge international pressure closed a tax loophole, so Apple legally made new arrangements in Jersey. This week’s shares hit another all-time high, giving the tech giant a market value of over $900bn. Apple says it pays every dollar it owes, in every country around the world.